The Kern Water Bank is one of a number of water banks located in California’s southern San Joaquin Valley that benefits water users by augmenting water supplies in dry years. Although the region receives water from the California Department of Water Resources’ State Water Project (SWP) as well as the federal Central Valley Project through the Friant-Kern Canal and the Kern River, these surface water sources are often not enough to meet the residential, commercial and agricultural needs in the area—especially in dry years.
Surface reservoirs have traditionally been used to manage the state’s fluctuating water supply, and dozens are located throughout the state, from San Diego in the south to Redding in the north. But concerns about the environment, evaporation and efficiency have created a shift toward groundwater banking as a preferred water management strategy in California. For example, the Kern Water Bank does not submerge a pristine Sierra landscape and all of its environmental splendor to store water as some surface reservoirs do, but rather re-creates thousands of acres of intermittant wetland habitat that dominated the area historically. And once the water supplies are placed in storage, the substantial evaporation losses experienced in surface facilities cease. Finally, the cost to develop the Kern Water Bank is a fraction of the cost necessary to construct surface reserviors with similar storage capacity.